News / Europe

Ethiopia Denies 'Hijacker' Co-pilot Faced Persecution

Swiss authorities detained the hijacker of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that was forced to land at Geneva's international airport, Feb. 17, 2014.
Swiss authorities detained the hijacker of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that was forced to land at Geneva's international airport, Feb. 17, 2014.
Marthe van der Wolf
The Ethiopian government says the co-pilot who commandeered an Ethiopian Airlines plane on Sunday was not facing persecution in his home country. 

The 31-year-old suspect, Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, requested asylum after taking the plane to Geneva, Switzerland. Hailemedhin is now in Swiss custody.
 
Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein says the co-pilot's actions do not make sense, as he had no criminal record in Ethiopia.

“As it is an Ethiopian Airlines pilot, he has several opportunities to apply for any airlines, withhold his dignity, and also he has a host of visas, including the Shengen-state visas.  So he does not have to hijack his own plane and [get] himself into hot water," Redwan said.

The co-pilot, who had no medical record, had been working for Ethiopian Airlines for five years.  
 
​When the other pilot went to use the restroom on Sunday's flight, he locked the door and hijacked the plane.
 
If tried and convicted, the co-pilot could face up to 20 years prison in Switzerland.
 
Redwan says there is no bilateral extradition treaty between Ethiopia and Switzerland.

“Because this criminal act is a threat posed for all international community and for all countries, the Ethiopian government would actually mull it over as to how to go about it and we will let you know which action that we are going to take," he said.

The plane carried 193 passengers.  None of them were hurt and no violence was used during the hijacking.
 
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s fastest growing airline and made a profit of $143 million in its last fiscal year.

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by: kiya from: ethiopia
February 23, 2014 9:03 AM
I am sorry that the comments of some people .let s say the action that is taken by hailemrdins is very stupid and possibly dangerous .and he has seriously mentaly ill .why did they hire him in ethiopian airline? If you have evidence that will help to support your idea that shows hailemedin was certified by doctor as insane, we will accept the comment .otherwise it is difficult to belive

In Response

by: observer from: United States
February 24, 2014 1:01 PM
@bk.
You are doing a disservice to the Pilot. In fact, it is good for the pilot if it is indeed a mental issue - that will spare him from the 20 years he is facing - and everyone will be sympathetic to him - including even the Ethiopian Government and the passengers whose lives he risked! Mental issues are difficult to spot - especially in Ethiopia where the health infrastructure is too poor to spot and treat such complex mental issues. According to the interviews from his families, he had shown signs of schizophrenia recently. I do not think anyone was aware of it!

In a country where people with mental issues are stigmatized and considered a taboo, no one wants to admit such issues and go for treatment. This incident is a good wake up call for the airline industry at large - a major loophole in aviation safety. That routine and timely psychological examination of pilots is essential!

If the Ethiopian government was indeed suspicious of the Pilot for politically activity, they would never have given him a responsibility this big! Besides, he could easily have left the country long time ago - as he is traveling the world! So the argument that he did it for political opposition doesn't hold water! Anyway, people who try to associate this terrible incident to politics are wayyyy too stupid - genuine idiots!!! These people are in fact discrediting the Ethiopian opposition that has legitimate grievances!!!


by: bk from: us
February 22, 2014 9:05 AM
If every body c lean the waste from his premises the city will also clean ! Haile medin did effectively his task.


by: observer from: United States
February 21, 2014 11:02 AM
Only insanity can explain his actions!!! Then we can forgive him, perhaps! People who try to relate this to politics are genuine idiots!!! Just imagine yourself as if you are a passenger in the plane ~ the political problems of the pilot is not your problem ~ he can ask for asylum where ever he wants! The bottom-line is ~ If you can't trust the pilot in a plane, if you cant trust the surgeon in an operational theater, then whom??? If you cant trust the cab driver when you take a taxi, or a the bus driver in a bus, then whom??? He did a huge damage to the airline!!! Politics is irrelevant ~ the guy needs treatment!!!


by: bk from: us
February 20, 2014 10:42 PM
Prison is the best place of geniune person in a country where there is no good governance!!! Like hsilemedin abera we ethiopian have to give a valuable moral support for him. He is a hero


by: TW voa from: dallas
February 20, 2014 10:21 AM
This was the best opportunity for the ethiopan government critics to critisize what they believe was right and all of them contradicted the hijacking with political operation in Ethiopia. After all his families made clear that the hijacker was not influenced by any political danger toward him. Now could VOA report what was The real motive for the hijacking. I suppose to wait another report for the real motive for hijacking from all news outlets including BBC, CNN, Reuters and others


by: Alem
February 19, 2014 9:22 AM
First, What no one is talking about is the fact that the Captain is Italian. Ethiopian rulers seem to favor paying foreigners several fold [in dollars] over equally qualified nationals [as teachers, etc]. This has been a source of resentment to a point that many experienced technicians and pilots have left the country to work in the Middle East. You would think Emperor Haileselassie who with TWA started the national carrier 65 years ago had made sure Ethiopians are in charge of running the company and universities, etc. I would suggest you use this occasion to investigate who are in key positions at EAL, the number of pilots [co-pilots] and trainees and their ethnic affiliation.

Second, Ethiopian rulers and their supporters are working feverishly to put a spin on the story [such as that co-pilot Hailemedhin threatened to crash the plane, etc]. Listen to spokesperson Redwan making a fool of himself sending out contradictory statements. Could it be that Hailemedhin was upset with the way the Italian pilot was treating him? Or that an Italian his boss simply because current rulers don't trust nationals [unless from their ethnic village] and are bent on quashing Ethiopian pride? Something to seriously consider.


by: bk from: us
February 19, 2014 5:03 AM
This is a womderful decision l admire him b/s he has played on his own role or responsibility


by: Sophia Adem from: TX
February 17, 2014 5:42 PM
We should never support this kind of behaviors he put a lot of peoples life at jeopardy. What a waste...

In Response

by: BB
February 18, 2014 2:57 PM
Agree, he should have used other methods in his intention is to protest the current state of affairs in Ethiopia.


by: Mimi from: UK
February 17, 2014 1:25 PM
Brainwashed by opposition Diaspora garbage, he thought he would get political asylum and Swiss welfare $$$ for creating drama.

He’ll get prison, then deportation!


by: plt2 from: UK
February 17, 2014 12:24 PM
>>If tried and convicted, the co-pilot could face up to 20 years prison in Switzerland>>

Why Switzerland??? Why should Swiss taxpayers have to support his incarceration? Sending him straight back to Addis Ababa.

In Response

by: Fight Back from: dc
February 17, 2014 2:06 PM
The action of the pilot must be encouraged by all ethiopias and support him with all means . because he is trying to proof the injustice of the TPLF/ Ethiopia Authority for the last 22 years. I therefore ask all TPLF opposition organizations to support any humility against ethiopian authoritarian regime

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